Presuppositions and Antipresuppositions in Conditionals

Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory:257-274 (2011)
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Abstract

Abstract Utterances of counterfactual conditionals are typically attended by the information that their antecedents are false. But there is as yet no account of the source of this information that is both detailed and complete. This paper describes the problem of counterfactual antecedent falsity and argues that the problem can be addressed by appeal to an adequate account of the presuppositions of various competing conditional constructions. It argues that indicative conditionals presuppose that their antecedents are epistemically possible, while subjunctive conditionals bear no presupposition. Given this arrangement, utterance of the counterfactual results in an antipresupposition, that is, a scalar implicature generated from the presuppositions of competing alternatives rather than from the at-issue content of competing alternatives. The content of the antipresupposition is the negation of the presupposition of the competing indicative, i.e., that the antecedent of the conditional is known to be false by the speaker.

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Brian Leahy
Harvard University

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